14 Mar The Scoop on Supplements for Teens
By Reva Schlanger MS, RD
Adolescence is a time of excitement and dread. Changes are happening both physically and mentally at this period in a person’s life. According to the World Health Organization, adolescence is the phase of life between childhood and adulthood, from ages 10-19.1 This is a crucial time to create healthy habits as it lays the groundwork for adulthood. While a lot of our needs can be fulfilled through our dietary intake, teenagers tend to be missing out on one or more key nutrients. This is related to several things including picky eating, allergies, growth, and hormonal changes.
In this blog we will explore the key micronutrients (i.e., vitamins and minerals) needed for proper teenage health, how to get an adequate amount of these micronutrients, when dietary supplements are indicated, and the safety of taking supplements.
Which Vitamins/Minerals are Most Important for Teenagers?
While teenagers need all the same vitamins and minerals as everyone else, there are a few important ones to highlight. Calcium, Vitamin D, and Iron are particularly important for puberty and proper growth development. Note that while a child can take individual supplements, multivitamins are usually the easiest way to ensure your child is adequately and safely meeting his/her needs without the risk of over supplementing.
Calcium is vital for the healthy development of bones and teeth. Children grow mostly during their teenage years so adequate calcium is especially important now. This will help allow a child to grow and develop properly. Not getting enough calcium can lead to osteoporosis (weak, porous bones) which is irreversible.
Calcium is found in a lot of dairy products including milks, cheese, and yogurts. It can also be found in some dark leafy green vegetables (think broccoli or kale). Having a dairy allergy or following a vegan diet can put your teen at risk for deficiency. One helpful way to get the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for calcium is to take calcium supplements. Remember to speak to your medical profession or registered dietitian prior to choosing a supplement.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin (meaning we need adequate fat in our diet to absorb it) that we can get through sunlight – hence why it is called the sunshine vitamin. We can also find it in certain foods like oily fish (salmon, sardines, herring), egg yolks and fortified foods like milk, orange juice and cereals.
Vitamin D helps increase intestinal absorption of calcium and phosphate. This means that if you are deficient in Vitamin D, you likely will be deficient in calcium. If you remember, calcium is needed for bone growth and strength so Vitamin D deficiency can stunt normal development in adolescence.
Summertime may be easier to get enough Vitamin D since the sun is shining daily. In the fall and winter, it is more difficult to get our daily dose of Vitamin D. Taking a Vitamin D supplement in tandem with eating vitamin D rich foods can help reduce risk of deficiency.
The NHS recommends that all children and adults over the age of four take 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D each day during fall and winter.2 Those who spend most of their time indoors all year round may need to take Vitamin D supplements daily no matter the season.
Iron is a mineral that helps build red blood cells – very important for growing teens. Since iron helps our blood cells carry oxygen, which gives our bodies energy.
Teenage girls are at high risk of iron deficiency when they hit puberty. Having your period means you bleed regularly so you will lose some iron. For most teenage girls, this occurs monthly and can cause significant iron loss.
Not getting enough iron in your diet and/or having very heavy periods can lead to iron deficiency anemia which can cause tiredness, lack of energy, and shortness of breath.
Iron can be found in a lot of different foods including red meat, poultry, spinach, seeds, and legumes. Iron supplements can be tough on the body and should be recommended by a health professional first.
To Supplement or Not To?
Dietary supplement use is common among children and adolescents. During 2013–2014, approximately one third of children and adolescents (persons aged ≤19 years) in the United States were reported to use a dietary supplement in the past 30 days.3,4 For anyone who struggles with eating a variety of different foods, dietary supplements can be beneficial. While you can take individual supplements, multivitamins are the most popular as they come in different forms (pill/gummy/liquid) and help with meeting all nutrients for children and adolescents.
Dietary supplements can contribute substantially to overall nutrient intake, having the potential to both protect against nutrient shortfalls as well as to lead to nutrient intake above recommended upper limits.5,6 Note that overdoing supplements is not beneficial and can produce adverse side effects. Before you start taking any new supplements it is recommended to check with your medical provider or dietitian.
- World Health Organization. Adolescent health. World Health Organization. Retrieved March 8, 2022. https://www.who.int/health-topics/adolescent-health#tab=tab_1
- Vitamins and Minerals. NHS choices. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/
- Qato DM, Alexander GC, Guadamuz JS, Lindau ST. Prevalence of dietary supplement use in US children and adolescents, 2003–2014. JAMA Pediatr 2018;172:780–2
- Jun S, Cowan AE, Tooze JA, et al. Dietary supplement use among U.S. children by family income, food security level, and nutrition assistance program participation status in 2011–2014. Nutrients 2018;10:1212.
- Bailey RL, Fulgoni VL 3rd, Keast DR, Lentino CV, Dwyer JT. Do dietary supplements improve micronutrient sufficiency in children and adolescents? J Pediatr 2012;161:837–42.
- Stierman B, Mishra S, Gahche JJ, Potischman N, Hales CM. Dietary Supplement Use in Children and Adolescents Aged ≤19 Years — United States, 2017–2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1557–1562. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6943a1external icon